DEPUTY Prime Minister Nick Clegg joined park users for a last-ditch protest over the closure of a café which has traded in one of Shefffield’s most popular green spaces for the last 60 years.
The facility, in Whirlowbrook Park, closes today despite a 1,500-signature protest petition by park users and surrounding residents.
Sheffield Council says that the café has to close because officials are unable to find an operator prepared to run alongside the main part of Whirlowbrook Hall, which is used for weddings and other functions.
Fretwell-Downing, based at Grindleford, has surrendered its lease for the hall and café.
Claire Bradley, a park user who helped organise the petition, said: “The café has been here for years and its closure would be a real loss for the Park. I’m disappointed that the council are going ahead with their plans for closure.
“I hope they listen to our last ditch effort to keep the café open. We just want the same attention that they have given to cafés in other parks across Sheffield.”
Mr Clegg is unhappy that the council did not stipulate that the café should remain open as part of the tendering process for a new operator.
He said: “The cafés in places like Millhouses Park and Endcliffe Park are both economically viable for the council and extremely popular with local people. There is no reason why the café at Whirlowbrook Park cannot achieve the same given a little effort.
“Clearly it was a mistake on the Council’s part to tender the contract without stipulating the café should remain open. It would be a tragedy if more than 60 years of history was thrown away because of a ‘can’t do’ attitude.
“From speaking to regular users like Claire, the level of feeling in the area is clear. The council should listen and at least give the café a chance to succeed.”
Coun Isobel Bowler, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for culture, sport and leisure, defended the council’s handling of the issue.
She said: “The suggestion by Mr Clegg that the council could re-tender the café business separately shows that he doesn’t understand the layout of the building.
“If we could have done this, we would have done so.
“However, the council will look for a separate operator for a new refreshment business but this cannot be in the current café location.”